Slowly he arose, summoned by the the fanfare that signalled the imminent arrival of the leader of the Gajantrian Empire. His heart beat a little faster as he tried to imagine the appearance of his sworn enemy, who he was to finally meet after so many years of bitter and unrepenting war. His ceremonial battledress weighed heavy on his shoulders, but not nearly so heavy as the burden of responsibility from his people to end the fighting once and for all.
The signal was given, his opposite number had arrived and was standing just on the other side of the door. Slowly the double doors parted, revealing the huge corridor beyond. A veritable throng of Gajja bodyguards moved firmly across the blood-red carpet towards his seat of power, protecting their leader from sight as well as from harm. When would he see...
The head gorilla stepped forward from the group and announced with almost painful volume, "Empress Cachatoria of the Gajantrian Empire!" The sea of muscle parted to reveal the foe he had been battling against for as long as he had been ruler.
"So...we meet at last Danyon," in soft, almost melodic tones drifted across the room to greet his ears, as their eyes locked for the first time. Her eyes. As he met her stare the room seemed to fade away, the shared tunnel of intent concentration growing to fill his mind and all his senses. He forced himself to speak.
"Yes, at last," he said, slowly stepping forwards, each step deliberate, as if requiring great force of will to make it. She was not at all how he had imagined her. Over the years the myth of the "Devil Queen" had grown out of all proportions throughout his world and domain, images of a gnarled, embittered dragon woman comdemning all who displeased her to death were widespread, yet now...now before him stood the most beautiful woman he had ever seen, much smaller than himself, slim but certainly not fragile, strong yet not overtly physically so; if she was a devil then her eyes must be the fires of hell itself, such was the burning he felt as she examined the man she saw before her.
Danyon stood at equal stature to the meatheads surrounding the Empress, yet his fair hair and crystalline blue eyes set him far apart. He could easily take any one or perhaps more of them on in a fair fight or otherwise, yet his strong features and powerful gaze indicated a thoughtful predisposition and intellect which engendered an instant presence, denying any conclusion other than that this man was a born leader, Commander of the Unified Armies. How he yearned for that title to fall into obsolescence, he didn't want history to remember him as a warrior, though his outstanding ability as a strategic thinker and planner made that ever more likely. Unless.
The Empress slowly lowered her gaze, though not removing her eyes from him for a moment, scanning purposefully down his proud torso, capturing every inch of him within her mind. Taking advantage of the momentary pause, Danyon surveyed the woman standing before him. Dressed totally in black, his initial thought was that her ceremonial dress was a lot less...well, less than his own. Almost a mockery of a warrior's battledress, it gripped her form so precisely that she could have been born into it. Before he could make any deeper observations she spoke.
"You are much...taller than I had imagined, Danyon."
"I thought I ought to make the effort," he replied. She smiled and he could not help but respond likewise. His eyes slipped away from hers for a brief instant and onto her glistening lips. He prayed she wouldn't notice. Or maybe he was praying that she would.
"If you would like to come this way," intruded a voice, offering to introduce the Empress to her quarters.
As she walked past Danyon she turned her head and gazed deep into his eyes, softly uttering, "We shall talk later."
The arrival of "later" took an eternity. The events taking place were of such importance to so many people, of so many worlds, yet instead of working out the strategy of the forthcoming negotiations, all Danyon could think of was his rival's eyes, and those lips...
Around the table of negotiation that night, progress was slow. Not a word passed between the two leaders, each instead addressing the opposing captains and trained negotiators. Argument faded into contradiction, but the apparent coolness of the two leaders prevented proceedings from decaying into outright squabbling. No-one was expecting too much progress to be made at this first meeting, and if agreed temporary stalemate qualified success then a success it was.
As the meeting drew to a close, Danyon and Cachatoria waved away their aides, who cautiously granted them a moment together, hoping that words between the two leaders may succeed where negotiations between the two empires had not.
Their minds had been matched against each other countless times in the countless battles, from opposite ends of star systems, and now they sat at opposite sides of a table, barely feet apart, two tacticians watching each other, waiting for the other to make a move. The Empress stood up and Danyon did likewise. Slowly she walked towards him, her eyes fixed upon his face. Although he too had his eyes on hers, he could not help but surreptitiously follow the arc of her hips as she approached him, her exaggerated black dress complimenting her figure perfectly, her hair worn up, emphasizing her strong cheekbones perfectly. They stood for a moment, barely inches apart, her perfume pervading his nostrils, his lungs tightening ranks against the power of this attack. Her lips parted as if to speak, but held there tantalizingly. She raised one hand to her head and pulled her long, dark hair loose, shaking it free with a short but effective movement of her head. Danyon felt all strength leave his body.
"We shall...talk, later," she sighed, turned and left the room.
That night Danyon sat in his chambers, his mind and body racing. Idly he tried watching the news reports filled with endless speculation on the outcome of the negotiations in which he was a major player. It was no use; he switched the display screen off with a frustrated sweep of his right hand. An idea occurred to him.
"Computer, give me the securicam in the Empress's quarters," he said with a wry smile flickering across his lips.
Instantly the screen showed a broad view of Cachatoria's suite, the luxurious decor slightly more splendid than his own. Two burlesque guards stood by the door, almost catatonic. But no sign of the woman he sought. A frown crossed his brow and he thrust himself back into his omni-positional chair and promptly fell onto the floor as the door whistled, signifying a visitor.
Rolling deftly to his feet and straightening his garb, he moved towards the door. Pressing the control panel, the door slid open, revealing a slightly more heavily attired incarnation of the Empress, flanked by three disappointingly less attired bodyguards. Attiring them fully would probably take a large chunk of the military budget.
"Friend or foe?" enquired Danyon politely.
"Leave us," said Cachatoria to her guards, deliberately avoiding answering that particular question when in front of them. The head guard stepped forward as if to protest but the Empress put him back in his place with a single icy glare which struck visibly deeper than any physical blow could have done.
As she stepped through the portal, the guards' eyes were fixed firmly upon Danyon. "It's so hard to get the staff these days," he directed at the largest guard as the door slid shut between them.
"So, your Empressness...what brings a girl like you to a nice place like this?"
"It is time to talk," oozed the Empress as she removed her outer cloak to reveal a black, silken dress with tactfully, or perhaps tactically, positioned holes revealing acres of naked flesh leading the eye straight towards those parts which were still, at least partially, covered.
Danyon gaped, though his military training had taught him to do so with his mouth firmly shut. It didn't work. The smile on his counterpart's face made that perfectly clear.
"May I offer you a drink?" he finally managed.
"I'd be offended if you didn't."
"A jine and tonicks?"
"How do I know you won't slip some poison into my glass?" Cachatoria asked, a playful slide in her voice.
"You don't," countered Danyon, fixing her in his gaze as he handed her the glass. Neither one removed their eyes from the other as they each took a sip.
"Well," she toyed, "I'm still here. What do you propose we negotiate first?" She turned and surveyed the room.
"You know very well that there are people who would gladly see us dead for just speaking to each other."
"Come now Danyon, we've spoken already, do you think they would kill us twice?"
"Still, discretion would be a wise tactic."
"Is everything you do done for tactical reasons?"
"Your armies haven't reached me yet."
"And your viewscreen into my quarters...you were, perhaps, planning to invade me?"
Danyon reached over to the control panel, disabling the screen, blushing. Cacha sat down on the satin cloaked bed, crossed her legs and took a slow sip from her glass, watching the man before her, awaiting his next move.
"Somehow," Danyon started, "these negotiations aren't going quite how I had planned."
"Somehow," Cacha replied, "I find that hard to believe."
Slowly he moved towards her, finishing his drink in one swift motion. He lay the glass down and gently sank onto the bed beside her, his muscular bulk causing her to fall gently towards him. They now sat face to face.
"Danyon, there is something I feel I really ought to tell you."
"Will I like it?"
"Not particularly," she replied.
"Well, could it wait a while?"
"I wish it could, but what I have to say has to be said now or it may be too late."
"What is it?
"I have to go to the bathroom."
Danyon lay on his bed, examining the ceiling for flies. Here he was, lying prostrate while the leader of the enemy empire responsible for the loss of countless innocent lives was in the bathroom, urinating. He couldn't see any which was no real surprise since the air conditioning would consume any wayward insects. He wondered how the Empress's species urinated. Sure, they were very similar to humans, outwardly at least, but many rumours had spread from the fighter pilot squadrons about the genitalia of the enemy. Not all was complimentary of course, but he wondered how true the ones concerning the female gender were true.
His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of flushing water. "Think man, look casual," he muttered, deciding that siting reclined in his omni-positional chair would be a suitably dramatic pose for he re-entrance. He lay back, using all of his self control to look away from the door, so he could turn to face her as it opened. Slowly it opened, and out stepped...
Out stepped a naked Empress. Before this moment he had thought that perhaps her dresses were designed to hold her body into the perfect shape, but now he saw that it was the other way round, her body had obviously been genetically engineered to show any garment off to maximum effect. Either that or there was a god.
Danyon felt his jaw drop. No amount of training could have saved him and he knew it would be useless to try. Silently she traversed the distance between them, her hips etching a perfect figure of eight in the air, leaving almost visible turbulence in their wake. Her bare feet pointed with every step, their arc intersecting with the ground almost immediately in front of the other foot, exaggerating her whole motion yet further. An age passed before she reached him and a thousand thoughts passed through Danyon's mind, none of them grammatically correct, so engrossed was he in the spectacle that lay in front of him.
Now she stood before him, her perfect breasts at eye level, one nipple each. That was one rumour out of the window. But somehow that didn't matter very much now, her firm and visibly plyable mammaric prominences, atopped tantalizingly by twin acute erectnesses, were crying out for third party manipulation.
Danyon reclined back in his chair just enough to include Cacha's face in his vision.
"Danyon, one of the prime requisites of being a military tactician is the ability to think laterally. Nice chair."
The next morning, Danyon awoke and rolled over in bed. He half expected to feel the Empress Cachatoria's warm, still moist body next to him but he did not. He chanced to open his eyes. It was a fine summer's day and sunlight streamed through his window and onto his face, arousing him from his slumber.
Then it struck him. He was no longer in his chambers on his military flagship, this room was totally unfamiliar to him, and he was naked. He struggled to remember what had happened the night before, tried to reconstruct some semblence of the events that had led to him being here. And then he realised. His name was not Danyon, Commander of the Unified Armies. It was Andrew. Andrew Royd, computer programmer.
In someone's dream, the words penetrated the fragile boundary between the real and the unreal. There was a dragon to be slain, but the voice distracted him from the task at hand. The evil beast breathed forth flames that could barely be avoided. Some time passed.
The person, still shrouded in deep sleep, was now dreaming about things he'd like to do to and with his lovely wife. The call penetrated into his dream at the moment when he was about to get down to serious business. He looked up, a bit befuddled, when he saw her head grow suddenly ugly and she screamed...
"Hey Pogo!! Your boss is calling! Will you get your lazy ass out of bed or do I have to come and make you?"
Pogo sat upright, perspiring suddenly, the voice arising from below having attained a very aggressive tone. He jumped out of bed and stumbled downstairs.
He looked his wife in the eyes, apologisingly, with as much of a Tom Selleck look as he could muster. She handed him the phone as he gently caressed her tail. She found herself unable to put her heart in the angry tapping of her foot on the floor. She did love him, no matter how chronically lazy her man was.
"Yeah," (he checked his wristwatch to see what part of the day it was) "good afternoon. Pogo speaking."
The voice on the other end of the line sounded perfectly civil but carried with it a sense of menace that could be felt as it half whispered, "Are you perhaps aware of the hours that have gone by since nine in the morning?"
Pogo was grappling for an answer, an excuse, anything, when the earpiece spoke again.
"Do I need to remind you of the fact that you actually have to work in order for me to tempted to pay anything?"
Pogo swallowed. The man had a point.
"But...," he fumbled.
The phone continued blaring forth stuff about moral codes, small thanks for many pains and that kind of thing. Pogo had been through this a few times before. He threw his wife a kiss, causing her to smile the smile that had been one of the reason that had caused him to fall in love with her in the first place. Her tail curled, her body language speaking of things that would cause many a man to blush.
Pogo directed his attention to his boss again, who was still having a go at it on the phone. He was currently reciting a piece of poetry.
"Doesn't matter what you see
Or into it what you read
You can do it your own way
If it's done just how I say."
Pogo remembered it faintly. Due to some strange and ancient reason, it had become a company poem or something, a kind of credo. A cultural anomaly, it was a general tendency to recite it to any employee who had done something wrong. Pogo sighed. He had heard it rather too often.
"Am I right in assuming I am needed at the office?" he asked with as much of a casual air as he could. There was a sharp intake of breath following by a positively mute silence at the other end. To avoid the verbal outpourings that generally ensued such a silence, he put down the phone.
"I'll have to be off to work, pumpkin," he said, kissing his wife on the brow, "it might be a bit later tonight. Don't wait up for me."
She looked at him with the air of someone that is trying to work out the Newton forces of a car crashing into a perambulator carrying her firstborn. Her tail stopped making those enchanting curly motions.
He had never before told her something like this. Was he cheating on her, perhaps? Had he taken up talking to strangers? Did he maybe - just maybe - intend to buy a digital watch?
Pogo saw the distress in her adoringly yellow eyes beneath her enchantingly bushy eyebrows - two of the 43 classic marks of beauty generally recognised in a woman of their species. He assured her that nothing was the matter - he was still hers and nobody else's and he also refused to talk to strangers. When he saw there was still a glimmer of apprehension left in those cute little eyes of hers, he hastened to add that he had no intent of buying a digital watch either. He hugged her, went upstairs to freshen up and get dressed, went downstairs, hugged her again, and left for work.
Having arrived at a large building with "DESTRO-CORP INC." on the roof in brightly blazing, massive neon letters, he went up to the second floor to knock on a door with a cheap self-adhesive stuck to the outside reading, "I'm the Boss".
There was no reply even after the third and increasingly noisy knock, so he carefully opened the door and peeped in. Nobody seemed to be there, but as he stepped in something struck him as very odd about the room.
There were the usual pencils scattered all over the man's desk, something Pogo knew was a means to convince people the boss was a busy man that had no time to tidy up his desk. There was a Rembrandt replica above the filing cabinet, hanging obliquely. If anything, it was a bit more straight than unsual. Flames licked from the top of the man's wastepaper bin, an annoying but certainly not unusual phenomenon that happens now and again to chronic smokers such as his boss.
There was a trail of lady's underwear leading to another door, slightly ajar, from behind which something like moaning could be heard. Now that was quite odd. The closer to the skin the underwear, the closer to the door it lay. Perhaps this was some kind of new meaning to the word "corporate meeting"? "Corporate mating", you mean!
Pogo took a small package from a pocket, looking at the cover with appreciation. There was a portrait of Lady Justicia on it, pieces of green paper on her tilted scales. He cleared his throat; you should give the guy a fair chance, he reckoned, though he took care not to clear it with too much of a noise. In reply, all he heard were muffled cries involving depth and velocity.
Pogo felt a bit upset about having had to part with dragon and wife alike just to have to listen to his boss doing things he'd rather have been doing himself now. He pushed a button on a device present in the room. A Light Emitting Diode popped on.
"Thank you for enabling this Cybernetics audio system to be of service to you," a friendly voice intoned.
Pogo pushed another button. A small drawer slowly buzzed out into the open. He took from the package in his hand a small silvery disc, put it on the drawer and pressed the same button again. With another buzzing sound it closed itself, swallowing the disc. He then turned a dial to "10".
A finger hovered meaningfully in front of a button labelled "PLAY >".
He pressed it.
"POGO! POGO! POGO!" he yelled loudly, not at all hearing himself, as violent sounds of blackened heavy metal poured out through the ovradially controlled quadrophonic speaker systems. He banged his head, jumped around the office and cried along with the music as violently as he could. The amplifier had no specification of Watt power because the manufacturers had not been able to design a small enough legible specification letter set that would still have been able to fit on the device without wrecking its absurdly exquisite design.
The doors bulged, the walls cracked, the Rembrandt submitted to gravity and the flames extinguished quite spontaneously. Windows opened seemingly of their own accord, satellites got hurled out of orbit.
All of this could be heard quite clearly on the 34th floor of the building, where a religious sect called "The Utterly Silent Ones" was having one of their meditations.
The telephone rang, though not even an aurally talented bat could have distinguished its incessant ringing from the general mayhem that quite literally engulfed the building and its surroundings.
Note: It might be worth noting at this instance that people living on Quernshal Epsilon who feel they have come somewhere for nothing usually have a tendency to play Metallica's "...And Justice for All" CD at the loudest obtainable volume. This is usually accompanied by wild pogoing (banging heads, thrashing limbs, jumping, moshing and so forth). This also explains why all male inhabitants of the planet are called Pogo.
This might strike you as weird, but that's only because you don't know what Zargomatic Sigmaians do when found in a bathroom with the paper run out.
An embarrassed head appeared around the doorpost instantly. It was agitating wildly, obviously yelling something that remained inaudible due to certain limitations of the ear when exposed to excessively loud music. Even so, Pogo was too involved playing air guitar to notice that ever reddening face.
The head disappeared for a few instants, after which the entire body stepped into the office. It was wearing various parts of lady's underwear that looked as silly on it as it would enticing on the proper gender. The body fought the black wind sprouting forth from the ovradially controlled quadrophonic loudspeakers, struggling to get to a button simply labelled "OFF". Eventually it succeeded, triumph on its face.
"Thank you for having enabled this Cybernetic audio system to be a service to you," the device intoned, its friendly voice unheard by the ears of those present in the office that were occupied coping with the sudden high beeping sound accompanying a sudden lack of volume.
The first sound they did hear was the phone, ringing angrily. Eventually they heard sandalled feet kicking at the front office door. Someone yelled, "Blasphemy!"
"Alright, Pogo," the boss panted, "you made your point. I'm sorry." He wondered why he was apologising to someone who should be apologising himself. He then noticed himself wearing laced cammy knickers and went all red.
Pogo got some of the fur out of his eyes, saw his boss, and grinned inanely.
"Honey?" a girl's voice called from behind the door that had previously hidden whatever the boss and she had been doing, "have you seen my knickers?"
The beating on the door ceased, the noises of flapping sandals and muttered curses in the hall fading. Many Silent Ones would have to perform penitent atonement tonight.
A girl's head, flushed and furry, became visible around the doorpost. When she saw the boss standing she was rendered weak with laughter. It was the kind of laughter, the boss would later think back, that you only knew when you're a male whose kid sister once witnessed your urinating onto shockwire.
Seating himself behind the pencil-strewn desk to hide the reason for all their fun, his fur slowly got its more familiar blue colour again.
"Miss Doughshilling," he said, having regained sufficient control over the situation, "would you be so kind as to dedicate yourself to our company correspondence?"
With an absurdly out-of-place curtsy, she disappeared.
Pogo was getting a really strange sensation in his tail. Almost, he could have sworn, as if it was on fire.
"Wipe that grin off your face," his boss said.
Pogo did. The sensation in his tail was growing, but he dared not look away from his boss, who seemed suddenly to have developed fangs. Also, the man's eyes had suddenly gone, well, gone red.
With a bit of a startle, Pogo noticed smoke curling up from his boss' nostrils. The sensation in his tail was now indistinguishable from pain. He tore his gaze away, finding his tail on fire. There was laughter.
"Pogo?" a voice lured him, but it seemed to come from nowhere.
His boss was no longer there. A dragon sat behind the desk. It spat fire.
"Pogo?" the voice repeated. It sounded loving, caring.
He opened his eyes, shredding the dragon and all the fire it had come with, to find himself gazing sleepily at a furry blue creature that curled its tail enticingly.
"Yes?" he sighed, in love.
Originally written November 1988. Rehashed a lot, November 1994.
Cronos thought he had been in some quite hot places, but never ever had it actually been this hot. Sweat was pouring down from every pore in his dehydrating body, and he knew instinctively that his bodily juices were not going to last long under these circumstances - for, even to his harsh personal standards, these were severely extreme (and, indeed, extremely severe).
It seemed as if each and every pore was not just perspiring, but experiencing a rather blatant kind of rupture, causing sheer cataracts of salty fluid to erupt from his being. It leaked into his eyes, obscuring his sight, irritating him endlessly.
He had experienced this heat and the drought before; he had been on the razor edge of death, and he had been saved only in the very nick of time by this mysterious nurse that had looked so extremely much like Gloria Estefan. Water had been carefully and lovingly poured into his dried-out mouth and onto his parched lips; lace had embraced his vision - as had a rather significantly well shaped pair of bristols. No matter how unsalubrious his situation had been, her appearance had transformed it into a dream that he had wished never to wake out of.
He could use some water now as well. A lot of it, as a matter of fact. Never mind the lace and bristols. Water. Age too oh. Lots of it, possibly. There wasn't much of it around.
It had been very dark. His knob had still been hurting rather nauseatingly, and his finger was still pointing towards the on/off switch on his Mega Absorb Groin Protector, trembling. Wandering through the darkness that had seemed never to end, the physical pain had slowly ebbed away, but another kind of pain had remained: That of having been beaten by a girl. A girl, of all beings in the universe. As far as he was concerned, girls were there for the mere purposes of human multiplication, dish washing and environment decoration.
He hadn't even wanted to lay a hand on her, at least not as such, strictly. The damage to his ego had been substantial.
Muttering to himself, he had suddenly stumbled upon two doors that seemed to have suddenly appeared out of thin...er...darkness. He had been totally bewildered at this, and for several hundreds of nanoseconds he had stood still in utter confusement.
Both doors had been comfortably ajar.
Last time he had left the Void of Utter Nonbeing, it hadn't brought him as much joy and excitement as he had had the courage to expect. The fact that one door now had an inviting plaque labelled "Eternal Heaven" whereas the other had one labelled "Pandemoneum" had not really helped him to make up his mind either. However, assuming that the latter would be some kind of Iraqi Restaurant where one could get some really good Kuwait Beef, he had pushed it wide open and had entered.
There was a lot of fire, and he reckoned that might be the reason why he was sweating so vehemently. Though, of course, he didn't think this for long as the whole concept of 'thinking' had not been included in his training.
In the sea of orange light and looming flames stretching out all around him, he suddenly saw a desk in the distance, slightly distorted in the hot air. As he came closer, he saw that is was made of delicate sapient jacaranda wood, and that is was craftfully carved with all kinds of evangelical scenes, mainly from the book of Revelations. The desk was just as vigorously aflame as the ground and surroundings it was located on and in.
Behind it sat a demon, idlily tracing an elaborate pentagram with a black-nailed finger. It looked at Cronos with a look of boredom in its eyes.
"Incredilus odi (*)," it said.
"Ille crucem sceleris pretium tulit, hic diadema (**)," it continued, stretching its hands towards the sky.
The mercenary annex hired gun would have liked to punish the demon for what he sensed could be nothing other than an insult of the most abominable kind. However, he could barely find the energy to let out a mere sigh of frustration.
"Si monumentum requiris, circumspice? (***)" The demon asked with raised eyebrows.
Cronos sighed again, and let his shoulders hang in quite a beaten fashion.
The demon smirked to itself, satisfied. The black-nailed finger stopped tracing the pentagram. Flames licked the finger, but it seemed quite impervious.
"May I have your name, please, Sir?" it now inquired.
Cronos was about to try and answer when the demon wrote something down on a piece of burning paper.
"And what, may I ask," it continued, "is your business here, Sir?"
Warchild, tired though he might have been, intended to beat the demon either to the answer or to pulp. The demon scribbled down something on the same piece of burning paper, unperturbed. It would have to be the pulp. Insulted, no matter how tired he was, every of Cronos' preciously few brain cells told him to undertake some action. With a tired, almost automatic swoop of his hand, he cut off the demon's head using one of his killer fingernails.
The head rolled down over the coals, crying "O tempora! O mores! O si sic omnia! (****)" before it disappeared in the hot haze. The body sighed to the ground noiselessly. Though the flames had not imperilled it before, the demon's corpse was now consumed eagerly.
Unfortunately, this action had taken the very last bit of energy out of Cronos' being. Therefore he entertained no serious hope at being able to manipulate his fate when a thunderous voice yelled through the fiery abyss behind him, totally catching him off-guard.
"SISTE, VIATOR!! (*****)"
The something that had yelled this was terrifyingly huge. It had two horns on the top of its head, a long tail that swung to and fro in a rather frightening way, and stood on hooves.
The Unnamed One Of Many Names. Cronos froze.
"BEHOLD ME, MORTAL! (******)" the voice cried again. The sound of it seemed to tear the heat and the bellowing flames to shreds. The echoes of it died away only slowly in the furnace-like rage of fettered fumes and flickering fire.
Cronos turned around slowly, as if in a dream he couldn't control, whispering, "Whattafu..."
"SHUT THY ORAL CAVITY, MORTAL! GROVEL BEFORE ME!"
Cronos knelt. He felt as if he was controlled by something outside of himself. He crawled towards the terrifying shape without daring to look up.
"MAY I HAVE YOUR NAME, PLEASE?" it inquired as Cronos finally grovelled properly at its hooves, totally at its mercy.
Warchild could do nothing but obey. All resistance within him was numbed, had left his body utterly. There had been nothing he could do about it.
He said his name. Upon hearing it, the shape took a step back.
"J. Warchild?...er...Cronos J. Warchild?!" it asked. All power suddenly seemed to have left its voice. When Cronos gathered the courage to look up, the shape looked a lot smaller. No longer did it have a tail, horns or hooves either. He looked up at the sweaty, bloated face of a man, a lit cigar stuck between trembling lips. He wore a name tag on which the name of a big multinational was printed.
"Oh, oh," the man said. He muttered it much in the same fashion a lion would when surrounded by a dozen wildebeests pointing Kalashnikovs at it. Then, although all fire couldn't possibly have gone out at that instant, everything went black.
When Cronos woke up again, he felt strangely comfortable, cool, and satisfied. Nonetheless, everything was still dark around him. Everything, that is, except for two doors above which plaques hung with "Eternal Heaven" and "Pandemoneum" engraved on them in large, not particularly unfriendly letters. He entered the door with the plaque "Eternal Heaven" above it, suffering from an inexplicable subconscious fright that entering the other door may start a perpetuum story.
The smell that immediately entered his nose was that of beef.
Several people with stubbly cheeks and checkered dishcloths tied around their heads were carrying plates with or without food to and fro various guests that sat around cosy tables with little burning oil lamps on them. The lamps were shaped like miniature oil wells, something which caused quite some amusement among a few of the guests, apparently.
The lights were dim, but not too dim to disguise the distrust that appeared in a couple of waiters' eyes as they beheld Cronos standing in his habitual, sortof menacing way in the door opening. They whispered to each other, pointing at him.
Cronos didn't like being whispered about, and he liked it even less when people started pointing at him. And it would be an understatement to claim that he absolutely loathed it when both of these acts were being executed simultaneously by men with stubbly cheeks and checkered dishcloths tied around their heads.
One of these suspicious characters now came towards Warchild and gave him a contemplative look, suspiciously asking, "You from Kuwait?"
"Wotzit too ya?" Cronos replied in a way he considered to display he was in total control of the situation. It was either the wrong way or the stubbly-cheeked character was quite a guy, for it totally failed to leave an impression. Instead of cowering in fright much in the way Cronos had expected, the man simply repeated his question.
Cronos couldn't help feeling his supposed stranglehold on the situation slipping from his grasp, like eels in a bucket of nose excreta. He'd had the feeling before. Deja vu struck him like a subconscious sledgehammer. He found himself muttering unsurely. Eventually, evading the question, he told the waiter he wouldn't actually mind getting offered some food. After all, this was a Restaurant of sorts, wasn't it?
Upon having registered this, but not without properly failing to lose any of the suspicion on his face, the waiter turned around and walked away slowly, to return after a while holding in his hands a menu Cronos thought looked like it was written in bloody Arab.
Some things only happen once in a lifetime, such as sensations of Utterly True Love, or the experience of drinking a Pangalactic Gargle Blaster. Cronos now went through something similar, for he was actually right.
A bit unsure of himself, Warchild started to study the menu, under a perpetual look of scrutiny from the man with the stubbly cheeks and the checkered dishcloth tied around his head.
"Abdul Haddam Sussein," Cronos proudly stated after a couple of moments, "that is what I'd like to have. And quite rare, if you don't mind. Unless it's sperm whale, of course, which doesn't agree with me at all. Anyway, I trust it isn't."
The scrutinous look on the man's face transformed itself, quite inexplicably so it seemed, into one of anger. Slowly, the man pointed to a badge fixed to his own shirt. There was a name on it.
"A.H. Sussein," Cronos read out loud, "well, that is a funny coincidence!"
A fist quickly zoomed in. Someone lost consciousness, just prior to thinking the sperm whales were flying low this time of year. (*) I hate and disbelieve (**) That man got a cross, this man a crown, as the price of his crime (***) If you seek (his) monument, look round you (****) O the times! O the manners! Oh that he had done all things thus! (*****) Stop, traveller! (******) Behold me, mortal!
Originally written summer 1990 (which was quite hot and had the Gulf War in it). Later published in slightly altered form in "Quill", the Utrecht University English Faculty magazine, July 1992. Last rehashes October 1994.
This story was written while intoxicated and has some scenes describing eroticism. It was inspired somewhat by the film ("movie" to all you Americans out there) "Wild at Heart", and basically goes to show that art and alcohol don't mix.
Oh my God, that alcohol went down very smoothly.
The hooligan made a mock attempt to throw away the bottle, kindof how he would expect girls to like it.
Lula thought he performed this act in a way that, to her, looked ravishingly exciting in a weird way. She rubbed his crotch and whispered something horny into his ear.
"Oh yeah, oh yeah," the hooligan (who happened to be named Sailor) moaned as he gave her neck a wet kiss.
"Ya know, Lula," Sailor bragged, "I nicked this car especially for you. 'Cause I...you know..."
She sighed into his ear, slightly moistening his anvil. Two erect thingies could be seen under her tight blouse.
Surgeon General Interrupt: No you're not going to do this. You can't. This is the most utter trash conceivable. How much did you guys drink?
Writers: Not much, yet, but we're getting to the one litre mark.
Surgeon General (continues): Oops. Then I guess I'd better call out a 'no holds barred' warning for everybody who's into virginity, prudence and chastity.
Writers (nodding their heads, breath a-reeking): Yeah. That would be a good idea.
"You look, like, fingerlickin' horny, Lula," Sailor continued breathily, now on his turn moistening her anvil - and more.
"Uuuhhh...," Lula hesitated.
"What is it baby?" Sailor softly rasped.
"Do you realise that this is read by innocent 'Twilight World' readers?"
Sailor seemed to mull that over for a few seconds.
"Yeah, he muttered disinterestedly, "f@*k 'em." It came out matter-of-fact, the way natural-born killers swear, carrying with it triviality.
"But do you also realise that we are at this moment doing 110 on a busy highway?" Lula sighed, repressing a surge of panic.
The erect thingies slowly dissapeared and she suddenly thought the way in which Sailor had handled the bottle wasn't half as exciting as she had previously reckoned.
"Come on, I just want to...you know," Sailor stammered.
He was losing his patience a bit. Why didn't girls instantly and blatantly succumb to his most primitive of baser needs?
"You know what daddy always says," Lula added shily.
"I wanna go all the way tonight," Sailor confided in her.
"Will you love me forever?" Lula wanted to know.
Sailor thought. The sentence "Let me sleep on it" somehow wanted to be said, but he didn't know why so didn't.
"Will you buy me a dog?" she continued.
"Oh, shit no. Not a dog," he spat, mouth feeling as if filled with metaphorical bile, "the only good dog is a hot dog, you know that."
Sailor's thingy was now also getting pretty limp. He saw a drive-in and parked the car there. They were playing "Gone with the Wind".
The car next to them was making rhythmic motions, and it wasn't the wind that was moving it.
"Look at them," Sailor tried, "they are having fun..."
Lula didn't even look him in the eyes. "Not until we're engaged."
Sailor thought. It was beginning to be a habit. His next date would have to be less intellectually stimulating. Definitely.
"I suppose slipping a cheap Pepsi Cola pulling ring on your finger won't help?" Sailor wondered. Another line that seemed to want to be said automatically, which this time he did.
She looked away from him, insulted. She found herself studying the rhythmic moving of the car next to them rather more intensely than was considered proper etiquette. Embarrassed, she looked away. She found herself looking at two ants doing something on the ground.
That alcohol surely went down smoothly again.
"D'ya know, Sailor," Lula said, "that alcohol is known to decrease a man's capabilities during, well, the act?"
"Dunno," Sailor remarked absent-mindedly, as if the question had been asked - and the statement proven wrong - many times before already, "Don' care, really. Doesn' put me down."
"Well, that's what they say on 'Physician TV', anyway," she continued.
Their foreplay (or whatever you'd like to call it, for it probably isn't, not even by male chauvinist standards) was brutally interrupted by some rampant beating on their car.
They both looked up rather startled. They saw a granny, repeatedly connecting her umbrella to the hood with as much force as she could muster with her frail, geriatric body.
"Say, you young rascals," she started to croak with a voice that sounded as if it needed some oiling by a three-hour session of fellatio, "are you fully aware of the fact that your immoral behaviour can be observed and studied by at least twenty-three honourable citizens of the State of Mississippi?"
Twenty-three honourable citizens of the State of Mississippi, zipping their zippers: "Shut up, you old fart! F*@k off! We want to see some serious porking here!"
Surgeon General Interrupt: Dit is hartstikke banaal, man! Dat kan je niet maken!
Writers: English, please.
Surgeon General: This is completely vulgar, man! You can't do this!
Writers: Try us.
Surgeon General: Oh my sweet heaven. Help me in this brave battle against orgasmic orgies of putrified pornographics! It seems even old Mrs. Tripper Gore can't turn the tide!
Heaven: Shut up, you old fart! Buzz off! We want to see some serious porking here!
Surgeon General: Well...er...I wouldn't mind seeing some myself, but you can't really admit that in public, can you? It wouldn't be politically correct.
Heaven: Sure you can. You have our blessing. You're no politician, are you?
Surgeon General: OK Sailor! Go for it man! Pork the bitch!
"Do you hear that, Sailor?" Lula whispered in a very low voice. She wasn't sure if she had actually heard something or not. Perhaps it had been tele-something. Kinesis? Pathic? Vision? Well, she didn't know. Something preternatural, anyway.
Mysteriously, the two erect thingies appeared again.
"Sure I did," Sailor said, his eyes reading her body like the expert he liked to think he was. A confident grin wrenched his lips.
Written December 1991, rehashed October 1994.
Thanks to my ex-girlfriend, Miranda, who deserves credit for the basic idea. I will always remember you fondly.
Hell is a pretty rotten place. Not only is it damn hot, but its inhabitants also have a rather deranged sense of humour. Reason enough to try and get out of it, but that tends to be so hard that nobody succeeds and everybody would rather adapt himself to the exotic temperature and odd sense of humour instead.
But not John Doe, full-time filantropist and part time science fiction games designer. Not the John Doe, the person that had never killed but a fly in his entire life, the person that had donated such ludicrously huge amounts of money to orphans, dying little African children and AIDS research that his heirs had threatened to sue him.
Not John Doe!
Due to a devilish trick of fate, however, some nutcase had put a 9 mm slug between his eyes. Just like that, one happy spring morning on the corner of 11th and Wall Street - speaking of 'being at the wrong place at the wrong time'! While his spirit left his body, gently bobbing above the remains, he saw the gun-wielding hooligan stealing his money, fake gold Rolex and - genuine - Nike Airs.
This would all have been perfectly alright had he taken the right turn after cloud nine. Unfortunately, he hadn't. Whereas he should have followed a traffic sign labelled "Heavenly Bliss and lots of Groovy Peace" he absent-mindedly walked into the direction leading to "Eternal Hellfire, Damnation and Utter Pandemoneum". Death doesn't happen to you every day, at least not too often. Once you've met the Skinny One with the Big Razor on a Stick, you tend to spend some time idlily wondering, deep in thought.
Wrong thing to do.
The first thing John Doe had considered odd was the guardian's costume. Wheras he had expected kind of a light robe and a long beard he saw instead a black goatee, two little horns and a distinctly red complexion.
"Excuse me, sir," John ventured, feeling ill at ease, "would you be so kind as to announce my arrival at these here Gates of Heaven? I'm Doe. John Doe. Johnny to my friends. Filantropist and part time science fiction games designer."
The demon (for, as you could have guessed already, it was none less than one) stifled a chuckle, frowned, and casually played with his laser gun.
"Sure," it said, "just go right ahead. Turn left behind the seventh gate."
Mr Doe was surprised to discover he had unintentionally wandered into Hell, which he only found out after having passed through the seventh gate, a demonic laughter echoing through the archway of gates far behind him. And it was too late.
"There is no way back now, chum," a voice said. It sounded artificial, collected, totally in control, much in the way he recalled having heard once in a film where a computer had raped a woman to create progenity.
John swirled around to find himself looking directly into the metallic eyes of a big red robot. It hadn't been there a few seconds ago. Its moving bits seemed properly oiled for it to be able to move thus soundlessly, a strange thought to go through the mind of someone who had just entered Eternal Damnation.
It is a common misconception that Satan looks like a goat that has eaten too much lobster. It's just a lack of imagination on the part of writers and artists of old alike, quite on the contrary to their thinking up the whole biblical storyline in the place. As a matter of fact, He Of A Thousand Names looks like a big red robot with smoke coming from his nostrils and a large Howitzer laser built into his right arm. Had the "Robocop" films been known in Times Long Gone, some artist might actually have thought of it.
John sensed that this had to be the purest kind of evil he would ever meet.
"No...no way back?" he asked, having trouble to get rid of that frog in his throat.
Beelzebub nodded in meaningful silence.
"Unless you want to fight the creatures from your own Hell," the Evil One said, making grotesque gestures with his arms, "Monstrous beings contrived by nothing less than your own imagination. Hideous creatures that spill forth death and destruction. Vile machines driven by your own fantasy, impossible to beat. Evil aberrations from the depths of your worst fear-ridden nightmares."
John trembled. A chair appeared from nothing, allowing him to sit down. He did.
"W...will I...I...h...have to beat all those?" he stuttered.
Astaroth folded his arms, nodding with his eyes closed. There was a smugness on the Nameless One's face, a smugness John would have liked to swipe off if only he would have been his usual, confident self.
"But...but...I h...haven't even killed a fly in my life, you know, and now I h...have to fight my way through all those...those dismal monstrosities?"
"Those," Azazel replied euphemistically, "and probably a jolly lot more."
It was then that Mr Doe decided to change his life (well, his death, actually). Gone were the days of peace and quiet. He would get out of this self-styled hell if it was going to be the last thing he'd ever do!
Original written July 29th 1991. Rehashed October 1994.
"I was slowly suffocating. I could barely see a glimpse of light above me, way out of reach. All I could see were strange items crashing down on me, as if desperately wanting to prevent me from as much as thinking of reaching out to that light - the light I treasured and adored, the light I needed to be able to hold on to life itself.
Yet I sank deeper and deeper, until I thought my ears would burst and my mind would implode. Vague memories I recalled, but they could not soften the feelings of suffocation and potential death that were threatening my being.
I tried to breathe but it only filled my lungs, yes, my entire being, with the items that leapt down at me. I saw the glimpse of light decreasing, fading like a candle precariously placed in a draught. It slowly disappeared until there was barely anything discernible.
Thinking back of the beautiful things in my life, I let myself sink deeper. My lungs burst. My mind shrank. Julia. Heavy Metal Music. Super Gridrunner. Lemmings...
None of it would remain where I was to go. None of it. I wept at the thought, writhing in grief, but the tears were beaten away by the items that kept on crashing down on my acheing body, reducing my heart and soul to slush.
How I had loved life, but it would never be the same again... I felt my life force flow away, drained into the vortex below me.
I spitted. I even tried to vomit. But there was no stopping the continuous stream down my throat, into my lungs, through my very pores.
"Indiana Jones - The Adventure Game," I read aloud whilst swallowing, "Ghostbusters!"
A thousand licensed titles dug into my flesh, straining to kill my last attempt at resistance.
I looked around and saw Men In Suits. Horrible suits, pressed meticulously. And ties, of course. Ties.
They would probably drag my lifeless corpse away soon, smug smiles plastered across their faces.
"NOOOO!!" I cried with all strength I had left.
Nobody heard me except for the Men In Suits. They did not heed my desperate calls, already started to smile.
Then, "Super Monaco Grand Prix" hit me straight straight through the heart. A U.S. Gold marketing director stifled a chuckle. I saw all colours and none for a brief instant, then I felt myself fade away as CD-ROM-based Turtles, great swathes of cheaply digitized sound and graphics, washed over me..."
Gene closed the book and put down his quill when hearing quick steps on the stairs, suddenly opening his senses to the sound of children playing in the street before the apartment building.
Instinctively, he sensed the person climbing those stairs would...
A soft knocking, a specific sequence, on the door.
He tried to walk past the Screen to the door as casually as possible, probably betraying more than he would have had he dashed for it. It was indeed Julia.
"I told you never to see me here," he whispered, "the Thought Police is always alert, you know that."
She glanced back over her shoulder, as if she expected someone there. Hurriedly, she closed the door behind her.
"Be still, Gene" she said, "I had the Screen turned off."
"Doesn't matter," she replied, "it just is. I know someone at the Department."
He seemed to relax, but knotted muscles still betrayed a sense of awareness. He felt odd. Why was she here? Why hadn't she waited 'til the evening, when meeting him in the park would be much safer? And had she slept with someone at the department to get the screen switched off? Uncertainty. Jealousy. Doubt. Fear.
It appeared as if she had read his mind, at least partly.
"I can't be in the park tonight, and neither can you," she checked the screen to see if it was really switched off, then continued, "there's a Meeting this evening. At Jonathan's."
Eager fires sparkled in Gene's eyes. "A Meeting? Tonight?"
She nodded. The sound of the children playing outside had ceased. He suddenly became aware of that. She heard it, too. He ran towards the window, carefully parting the curtains slightly to allow him to cast a glimpse on the street below.
Together with the increasing sound of marching feet, he saw a Squadron of uniformed men come around the street corner. The sound of their boots sounded threatening on the cobbles, which were still wet with the early morning's drizzle.
He hurriedly closed the curtains again.
"Thought Police!" he rasped, "Were you tailed?"
She shook her head, but it was obvious she couldn't be completely sure. "Maybe it's not us they want," she said, "maybe it's someone else..."
"Silent," he interrupted her, daring another look through a tiny opening between the curtains.
He looked intently at the scene that was developing in the street.
One of the Thought Police officers had halted in front of a house on the other side of the street.
"You're right," he said, sighing in mute relief, "it's not us."
Poor bastards anyway.
He opened the curtains wide. She came to stand next to him.
"It's the...Tails...Tolers...whatever they are called," she observed with a voice of incredulity, "who would have thought they..."
"Who would think it of us?" he put bluntly.
The Thought Police had forced the door open now, and entered the house. A shot could be heard. After a while, an officer came out with three children and a woman, weeping. Another carried a box.
"Illegal computer games," Julia whispered.
Gene nodded slowly.
At that moment, a black car with sirens and flashlights came around the corner, stopping precisely in front of the house where the officers now stood, holding the woman and her three children.
Out of the car came a man. He wore a tweed suit and tie, casually glancing around through top fashion glasses. Around his wrist was a gold watch. He held a cane.
The officers jumped in line, saluted enthusiastically, almost with religious zeal.
"A Man In A Suit," Gene gasped.
They could see the man inspect the box with games. He took out a random floppy disk, tossed it back after a quick inspection. After signalling the box to be loaded into the trunk of his car, he turned his attention to what seemed to be the youngest of the three children. A little boy, probably not yet 10 years of age.
A wry smile wrung his lips.
He made a casual remark to the woman, who now started to weep even more hopelessly, seeming to beg the man for mercy. She tried to release herself from the iron grip of the Thought Police officer. With a quick move, the Man In A Suit hit her across the face with the cane. His face didn't even as much as flinch. No joy, no pain, nothing. Void of expression, like a machine.
Blood appeared from a gash across the woman's cheek. She stopped sobbing and looked at the man with eyes wide open in fear mingled with disgust.
The man put his gloved hand on the thin hair of the boy, stroking it as if reassuring the child, soothing it in some way. Another Thought Police officer now emerged from the house carrying a computer system. Upon a sign of the Man In A Suit this, too, disappeared in the trunk of the car.
The man asked something of one of the Thought Police agents, after which this officer gave him a gun.
The Man In A Suit toyed a bit with the gun, as if wondering what to do with it. He spoke to the woman. She began to weep again, desperately struggling to get free. There was no escaping the iron grip.
The man put the gun on the little boy's forehead and pulled the trigger. Blood came out on the other side in a small dark red fountain.
Gene promptly closed the curtains. Julia looked shocked. The shot reverberated through their minds.
A sound could be heard of a car door slamming shut and a car leaving. The siren, that had wailed incessantly during the whole procedure, was turned off. The sound of disciplined marching feet growing distant indicated that the Thought Police, too, was leaving.
"You'd better call the Department and tell 'em the Screen's not functioning," she said, "otherwise they may get suspicious."
She hurriedly kissed him, opened the door and left.
Gene sighed deeply, suppressing an urge to look outside again. He went to sit down in the one corner of his room that could not be seen by the Screen, picked up his quill and opened the book.
"October 13th 2004," he read aloud as he wrote down the words.
It was past eight that evening when he retrieved his coat.
The Screen was working again, and spilled forth the usual amount of propaganda, soaps and somewhat more subtle advertisements. He knew that someone, somewhere, was watching him. An eerie feeling of discomfort crept upon him at this realisation. He still hadn't quite grown used to it.
It seemed to him as if this afternoon had never really happened. The air conditioning had made the scent of Julia's perfume vanish quickly, and apart from a patch of congealed blood and thin hair on the pavement on the other side of the street nothing indicated that the Thought Police had ever struck. It always happened that way. Eventually the rain would increase and wash it all away, like most people's memories of events similar like these that happened all the time, everywhere, because man has in himself a compelling desire to disobey.
But Gene could not banish the vision of the Man In A Suit holding the gun to the little boy's forehead, the sudden sound of the shot that had mercilessly hurled the lifeless body to the ground - every detail of sight and sound seemed impaled on his senses. The fountain of blood, the glazed eyes enlarged thousandfold, the "thud" of the body on the pavement.
He shook his head, hoping that would make it vanish. It didn't. Damn them! Had all good sense abandoned humanity?
He put up his collar, opened the door and left. The wind was remarkably chilly. It tore at his coat, as if trying to make sure he would notice it. The street lights threw a disembodied, eldritch light, emphasising the dreariness of the slow rain that had started about half an hour ago.
The dark patch would probably no longer be there when he would return later that evening. He hoped the horrible memories would have similarly vanished. Idle hopes, and he knew it. The stuff clung to you, ate you from the inside of your soul.
He stayed close to the buildings, melting into the shadows each time he heard faint steps of other people in the streets. There was no curfew yet, but there was a substantial chance of being arrested after dark - the Thought Police consisted mostly of men that'd rather shoot first and ask questions later (if at all). And, of course, Gene would rather not be leading strangers to one of the Meetings.
About three dozen people were huddled together in a cellar under a 19th century house. It was rumoured that the owner of the house was one of the Department people, one of the few who did not believe in the System and instead sought to battle it slowly from the inside. Some rumours even went as far as stating that he was one of the top System people, but nobody knew that for certain. He was never present on any of the Meetings. Nobody was certain even if the place was actually his. Probably not.
Jonathan's had become a popular place of saviour for original games programmers ever since the Men In Suits had taken over full global economic power, instituting a law against the production and use of non-licensed products. People that had been living software industry legends in Pre-Licensed times led the life of renegades and outlaws. These Meetings were the only occasions when they could be like their former selves again, albeit partly.
A hushed silence had passed over the people gathered in the cellar when Gene related what had happened that afternoon opposite the appartment building where he lived.
"Pigs," someone said, "they're pigs. Pigs in fancy clothing!"
Most of the people here were men like Gene himself - young, refusing to submit to the absurd laws inflicted by these ruthless Men In Suits; people who refused to believe that the only viable products were licensed products, people who spitted on the names of "Ghostbusters", "Back to the Future" and "Moonwalker". They had all liked the films, but the games inflicted upon them by the Men In Suits were of a quality only liked by mothers doing Christmas shopping - and their children, who apparently didn't know better and probably never would.
A new load of Originalist games had arrived today, and there was even a new computer system with them. These soon got all attention as there were some really good ones among them, including a cult game including llamas, yaks, sheep, and an Ancipital.
The system was installed, and Gene watched as someone started playing a rather nice shoot-'em-up game where you had to collect various animals while shooting all kinds of other objects.
The kid handling the joystick was surely very talented, and when he had lost all his lives, after half an hour's playing, he was already allowed to enter his name in the hiscore table.
He was at the top, having forced the name of the previous hiscore holder, one "Stu Taylor", down by one entry.
"Wait!" Gene gasped, feeling a sudden sense of despair arise in him, "Taylor! You see that name? Stu Taylor!"
The whole hiscore list was filled with Taylors. It had been the Taylors that had been struck by the Thought Police that afternoon. Not the Tails or Tolers or something. Suddenly the name shot home, its implications weakening his knees.
This system had been theirs. The games had been theirs. All had been confiscated that very afternoon by the Man In A Suit that had mercilessly killed that little boy. Then certainly there could be only one explanation...
Had Julia arrived already?
There was a sudden noise. Sounds of panic. Frantic movement. The lights were smashed, plunging the room in total darkness. There were cries. Some shots. A sudden, searing hot pain in his left shoulder as something hot entered and refused to leave.
Then everything went black.
The depth increased.
The blackness around him whirled ever downward, and the light that reached him from the little bright spot far above him grew less even as he watched. Already it was like the point of a needle. His eyes could not even convince him that what he was seeing was not just a figment of his imagination.
His skin was bruised by the impact of many dark things crashing down with an ever increasing vehemence.
He tried to cry, to grasp out towards that spot of light, real or not. It was as if he felt the rays of light release him, like a rope breaking, a film hero hanging on it. And this time he knew there was nothing to save him for falling endlessly. There would be no rescuing ledge. There would be no strong arm of another hero snatching him away from certain death.
He was beginning to lose his senses. Already, the light seemed to be getting more intense, coming towards him rapidly although he still knew himself to be falling.
There was no mistake now. The light seemed to come nearer - up to the point where his eyes hurt of their brightness even though he had closed them.
Gene opened his eyes, suddenly aware of a pain in his left shoulder. He felt with numb fingers, discovering a band-aid wrapped around it.
Bits and pieces came back to mind. The shots. The hiscore table. The sight of a Men In A Suit shooting an innocent child.
His head hurt, too. He must have dropped down on something after he got what he reckoned was a shot wound in the shoulder. There was a bump on the side of his head.
He looked around to take in his surroundings. There was no mistake about it. He was in a prison cell. A Thought Police prison cell.
He had always imagined these cells to be dark and damp. He had thought they would be made of filthy concrete, dark grey with Originalist slogans written all over them - some of them written in congealed blood, perhaps.
Reality struck him almost like a physical blow.
The cell was entirely white, and seemed to be made of plastic. No spots anywhere, and no writings either. The corners could barely be seen as it was all perfectly white and well lit by a lamp that allowed no visible shadow. No shadow, that is, except for that of his own body that was lying on the ground. He felt like a shadow himself. Feeble. Weak. Helpless.
His clothes, so he noticed, had been changed too. He was dressed all in black. Except for his face and hands there was no patch of skin visible. The blackness of his clothing was complete. It seemed to be able to suck up every particle of light cast at it, much in the way everything else in the cell seemed to radiate it. Was this some kind of way to make him feel safe, or saved?
One of the walls turned out to have a door in it. It was not until someone opened it that he actually discovered.
The person was dressed in white entirely. Even the visible skin on hands and face seemed to be preternaturally pale. He could see by the form of the body under the tight white suit that it was a woman. She beheld him wordlessly, oppressing him into a mute silence merely by the way she looked at him in utter disgust and haughtiness. She seemed to examine him, watching every square inch of his body, every line on his face, the outline of his genitals in the tightness.
The invisible spell by which she had seemed to bind him to silence suddenly broke. By the time he found out he had the capacity of speech, however, she had already turned around and left, carefully closing the cell door behind her.
A panel in one of the other walls suddenly opened. Behind it was a Screen. It displayed a message.
"People don't want to be saved."
Simple, plain, without the unnecessary exclamation mark.
Gene had heard of the terrible things that were supposed to happen to people caught by the Thought Police. He had never really believed them, but after what he had seen this afternoon...
How long had he been unconscious? It could have been...
A new message was displayed on the Screen.
"It is October 15th 2004."
Some basic arithmetics told him he had been out for two days. Two days! Would Julia know? Perhaps she...
The Screen now displayed someone in a prison cell. The cell was entirely white, and the prisoner was dressed entirely in the same colour as well. As the camera zoomed in on the person, he saw it was a female. A girl in her late twenties.
"Bastards! Bastards!" Gene shouted at the top of his voice. He started to get up, to hit the Screen or find something to hurl at it, hurl himself at it. A sharp ache in his shoulder reminded him he'd better not. His knees gave way, causing him to sink back to the floor, moaning in pain.
"Bastards..." he muttered under his breath, looking up to see the picture of Julia in her cell replaced by another message.
"People are happy."
What are they trying to do to me?
The answer to his question was almost biblical.
"We want to make you see the error of your ways."
Now Gene remembered. He had heard stories of fanatic Originalists disappearing, only to reappear after some weeks as if nothing had happened - with the only difference that they were now Licensists. The Department had its methods to change people's minds. Even if it took weeks or months, they would succeed. Either that, or the victim would turn out insane - to be disposed of accordingly.
Death or Licensism. A brute choice he thought ruefully.
The Screen's answer was prompt.
"Death or Licensism. Your choice."
Damn it! This screen can read everything in my mind!
"Death or Licensism. Your choice."
The machine didn't even bother to react to Gene's thought. Why react to the obvious?
"I'd rather be dead than be submitted to that which you call Licensism!" Gene shouted.
Swiftly, the Screen displayed another message.
"As you wish."
Only some moments passed, after which he heard someone unlock the door to his cell. A woman dressed in white came in. Another nurse. In her hands she held a small tray on which some small bottles were located. Her hair looked familiar. And those eyes looked like...
"Julia!" he exclaimed.
"Gene," she replied. Her voice and expression betrayed no emotion whatsoever. Void of anything, like a machine.
"What have they done to you?" he asked, "Why..."
He felt the power of speech give way in mid-sentence as she looked him straight in the eyes, binding him to silence by the same spell the other nurse had used.
"We have done nothing to her," the Screen read.
Gene's eyes spoke to her of fear and infinite sadness, but she had already transferred her gaze to the bottles - and a syringe that she carefully and meticulously started to fill with various quantities of the various fluids present in those little bottles.
He saw her prepare his death. He found he didn't have the power to move. Betrayed by his friends. Betrayed by the woman he had lived to love. Killed by the woman he had lived to love. They certainly knew how to make your last moments wretched.
He looked around, knowing he would not have much time left to do so. He strained to keep his eyes away from Julia, causing his eyes to focus on the Screen. There was another message there.
"What a cruel fate. Better than Licensism?"
Yes! he thought, Yes!
But he felt his heart give way within him. He himself doubted the certainty he had tried to assert with that thought.
The Screen's analysis was quick and harsh.
Was his life worth spending for The Cause? Was he maybe the last of the Originalists left? Was it worth dying an unknown martyrdom?
The Screen still had the same message. Mute, but overpowering all his senses.
He thought back of some of the games he had played. Had not the original games been so much more fun than the licensed one? Had he not played many original games much longer than any licensed material, those quick-cash jobs?
Indeed I have! He could feel a new inner strength, fuelled by the experience of having played original games. He knew it was worth dying for the Originalist Cause. And after him there would always be more Originalists.
Good games get played anyway.
He saw the syringe's needle sink in his arm, barely depressing the skin, but didn't as much as flinch. Death would embrace him - a far better alternative than Licensism.
Julia removed the needle after injecting all the fluid in his veins. Without a word, she turned on her heels.
Gene's last words were nothing more than a whisper, barely audible even to himself: "I have always loved you, Julia."
She didn't look back, oblivious to the pitiful dying man in the cellar. She closed the door behind her, not bothering to lock it.
The Screen went black.
For Gene, too, everything went black. For the final time.
He had to strain his eyes in order to see the vague spot of light now, so far away and above him now that it seemed nothing more than a minute star, billions of billions of light years away. No matter how big the sun might be that formed that star, to him it was minute and it had no power to warm him, nor the power to shed any light on him.
Pictures flashed by him. He could see a ghost holding up his fingers in the form of a "V", just before it was torn away by a Teenage Mutant Hero Turtle, which was in its turn obscured from his view by a giant "Moonwalker" logo.
He closed his eyes, finally at peace.
A llama beckoned him.
Originally written May 1991. Rehashed and extended somewhat October 1994.
"This is patient number 18.104.22.168., Karsmakers, Richard C."
The voice sounded distant and echoed slightly off the frating green through a cold and sterile corridor of the Sanitarium for the Very Very Mentally Instable.
"What's his Q?" another voice inquired.
"Computer Junk grade A+. A very heavy case. Seems to think he's a Boolean variable about to get a value of eleven."
"I see," nodded the other again.
"Totally hopeless. Not to be released at any time, not even to be taken out of his straitjacket. No visitors allowed, either."
The other made some notes in a small booklet, which was afterwards carefully replaced in a pocket.
"No!" they heard the voice of patient number 22.214.171.124 cry out, "No! I am not allowed to get a value of eleven! Please help me, anyone, help me! My CPU is pushing an interrupt driven unit at my memory cells...it has too high a priority..."
The men standing outside the room looked thoughtfully at one another. One of them, the one that hadn't been making notes, opened a small hatch in the reinforced tungsten carbide door to allow them to peep in.
The patient had assumed a motorcyclist's posture now and was making noises that were supposed to imitate a sexy engine.
"Look, Dr Hetfield," the man said, stepping aside to give his colleague the opportunity to watch.
"Vroom. Vroom. Skreeeeeeech!!" the patient uttered while his body was now slowly tilting as if going through a curve, "vrooo...?!..eeeeeeee...Bang! Crash! Smash!"
Patient 126.96.36.199's body fell to the floor limply, suggesting heavy mutilation and spontaneous partial amputation of several of his limbs. Some seconds later, however, he sat upright again and continued driving at, so it seemed, an awesome speed.
"He's suffering a chronic motorcyclist's syndrome. It usually comes right after the Boolean variable thing, and is in its turn usually followed by..."
The man was interrupted by screams of fear and dread from inside the padded cell.
"Aaaaarrrgghhh! Let me out of here! You shouldn't have let me in at the first place...even my base page is of much too big a size for a ZX 80!"
"...his claustrophobic 'out of memory' syndrome," continued the man, fumbling in one of his pockets.
"Tsssk, tsssk, dear colleague," was about the only reaction the other could produce. "I suppose that's the main problem with those Computer Addicts going Cold Turkey."
They both nodded.
"Especially the grade A+ ones."
"How did he get so far, Dr Hamilton?" Dr Hetfield asked in sympathy.
"His parents bought him a computer at the age of 17," Hamilton explained, " which made him rotten to the core. They shouldn't have allowed him to buy his last computer though, one of those incredible Quark Hyperdrive things. Got one at home too. He sooner or later had to run into a game that absurdly addictive."
"Which game?" Hetfield asked.
"I think it's called 'Super Hangon'," Hamilton replied, absent-mindely.
Hetfield's eyes opened wide.
"You're not suggesting..."
"Oh yes, dear colleague, oh, yes."
"Er...I have that one at home myself, too," Dr Hetfield said, trembling slightly, "Let my kids play with it all the time! Even play it myself now and again. Seems quite harmless."
"Mine likewise. Me likewise. Even my wife likewise," said Dr Hamilton, a hint of sadness in his voice.
"Shoot," Dr Hetfield muttered, apparently in thought, "Never realised it could have such devastating consequences."
There was a silence as deafening as it could be. Inside the padded cell, the patient was having his "Output Device Not Present Error"-syndrome, sitting sedately in a corner, waiting for a pin to go low. The silence somehow gave the moment extra momentum.
"I did!" Dr Hamilton suddenly sighed deeply, embracing his colleague, putting his head on the shoulder, eyes wet.
"My whole marriage is breaking up," he sobbed, going apart at the seams now, "my kids screw up school...I get distracted at work more and more rapidly...I even start try cry aloud and confess my mental state to a fellow colleague!"
"Everything will be alright," consolidated Dr Hetfield, patting his colleague on the shoulder reassuringly.
"You know, I'll level with you," the sobbing doctor sighed, "at times I think I am beginning to feel like a Boolean var..."
His eyes opened wide in fear.
Inside, a pin went low. The patient entered another mentally deranged phase. Dr Hamilton's eyes crossed, his head went red, his arms sagged.
"No!" he said, trying to hold on to the frayed ends of sanity, "No! No, blasted CPU! I am a Boolean variable! I cannot get any value other than zero or one! Not...not...surely not eleven! You've got to be joking!"
Dr Hetfield released the man from his grip, raising his eyebrows in wonder. This Asylum, apparently, didn't deserve half the credit it got. Carefully avoiding the now flailing arms of his colleague, he probed the man's pockets for celldoor keys. Having found them, he quickly opened the door and gently but surely directed - pushed - Dr Hamilton into the same padded cell Karsmakers, Richard C., was in.
"Vroom. Vroom. Skreeeech!" Dr Hamilton greeted patient 188.8.131.52.
"Crash! Bam! Splatter!" the patient responded in warm welcome, sinking through his knees and once more allowing his body to fall to the floor rather limply.
"Sure, yeah, they're good boys, yes," Hetfield mumbled, closing the door and locking it meticulously. He glanced through the peephole to see his former colleague and the patient running around after each other now, one making engine-like noises, the other mimicking a vast crowd of cheering spectators.
"Tsssk, tsssk," Dr Hetfield tssk'd, flicking the key in a pocket of his white coat. For no apparent reason a thought entered his mind.
Original written October 1988. Rehashed October 1994.
For this story, dear reader, it is needed to venture far back in history, to a time when history wasn't black or grey but void of colour altogether. As a matter of fact, reversely speaking, we will have to leave history behind us and explore the times of 'pre-history', when mankind barely existed - let alone write anything about the weird and wonderful things that happened to him.
It is in this time that we meet a predecessor of modern man, whom we will, for the sake of easy reading, call 'Grønt'.
Grønt looked up, awaking at suddenly hearing his name called out, and startled when discovering it was his stomach that had called. He would have to make a mental note of this one day, like tended to happen every morning.
He looked around him and saw the sun rising in the west, deep in the innards of a huge fjord - only, of course, he didn't know it was a sun that rose there, let alone that it was a fjord above which this phenomenon happened.
He startled again as his stomach seemed to cry out the name of someone he didn't recall ever having met before. He'd better get some food into him soon, otherwise there was no telling to who would all turn up here. Eating always used to shut his stomach up - until the next morning, of course, when it would wake him up, calling him names again.
He walked towards the yellow orb in the sky, instinctively sensing there was likely to be some food in that direction.
Before we continue with this tale, you should know one thing: Prehistoric Man is not easily startled - instead, he is only easily and very sincerely, indeed, completely, flummoxed.
So Grønt was quite flummoxed when he looked at an enormous piece of writing located on one of the fjord cliffs. He gazed at it for the largest part of the morning, but couldn't make any sense of it at all.
His stomach was clearly trying to make a point there, and it quickly reminded Grønt that he had more to do rather than stand aimlessly around and gaze at the word "Slartibartfast" all morning.
He was amazed by the fact that that strange thermonuclear fusion reaction in the sky had moved so much during his ponderings - but not half as amazed as he was by the furry little creatures that started hurling themselves down a cliff's face, connecting themselves in a lethal way to the ground not more than thirty steps ahead of him.
For a moment he stood there, being silently, sincerely and utterly flummoxed again. Then a bright light bulb appeared in a small fluffy cloud above his head.
"Føød!" he cried joyfully.
At that precise instant, a contraption from outer space tried to land exactly in front of him. It hovered a bit above the ground much in a way a hesitant spaceship would do, and then finally touched down.
A ramp extended itself, from which came a creature walking down. The creature, so Grønt was kinda truly flummoxed to see, looked a lot like him. It had his genitals covered, however. How shockingly rude!
The creature stepped down towards Grønt, who stood rooted to the ground in a rather extremely flummoxed way. To anyone familiar with the words, the phrase 'insanely witty' could have sprung to mind.
"Might you perhaps be Grønt Eggesbø Abrahamsen?" the creature asked.
"Grønt?" Grønt replied, and started hopping up and down as if immensely happy, rolling his eyes and flapping his ears.
"I take it that's a yes," the creature nodded, then hummed the middle segment of Yngwie Malmsteen's "Trilogy Op:5" and ticked a box on a sheet of paper he had taken with him from the spaceship.
Things were going smoothly for Wowbagger II, son of Wowbagger. Unlike his father, the Infinitely Prolonged, who had set out to insult the entire universe in alphabetical order, Wowbagger II, the Even Less Finitely Prolonged, had decided to insult all people of all times in the entire universe in alphabetical order. Quite a formidable task, one might say, but as he had immortality in his genes and had a Compact Universal Nuclear Time Traveller at his disposal, he reckoned he was quite capable of doing it.
He had just started with a new name - Eggesbø Abrahamsen. He had made a habit of starting with oldest representative of the family name. This prehistoric man, Grønt Eggesbø Abrahamsen, was the first in this case.
Grønt still hopped up and down as if insanely happy.
"Nøndeju!" the Prehistoric Man cried as if something unbelievably exciting was happening right before his eyes, "Nøndeju!"
Wowbagger II didn't heed the cries the Eggesbø Abrahamsen progenitor uttered. Instead, he took out a kind of calculator with had, for some strange reason, "DON'T PANIC" written on it in large, friendly letters.
He typed in the coordinates of the place where he was at the moment, followed by a text.
"Hmm," he muttered, "they speak Norwegian here."
As the prehistoric man looked unpredictable enough for Wowbagger II to decide that trying to insert a Babel Fish in the ancestor's ear might prove dangerous, he instead put it in his own mouth.
"Grønt Eggesbø Abrahamsen," Wowbagger II said solemnly, "you're a jerk."
The Babel Fish instantly translated the voice into Norwegian, but this did not seem to affect the Prehistoric Man.
Grønt still hopped up and down in a rather insanely happy way when Wowbagger II ticked another box on the sheet of paper, turned on his heel, re-inserted the Babel Fish in his own ear and made the calculator-like thing disappear in a pouch hanging at his side.
Then The Even Less Finitely Prolonged suddenly saw them: Little creatures that hurled themselves from the nearby cliff face, behind his spaceship.
"Whattaf..." Wowbagger II uttered, and went closer to investigate. Even as he looked, more of the little creatures smashed to ruthless deaths on top of their crushed and splattered little buddies.
At that instant, a sense of Purpose coarsed through The Son's veins with deafening speed. He instinctively felt that his immortality now suddenly had a Reason, a Purpose beyond mere purpose. It was not to insult the entire universe in alpha-chronological order, but...
TO SAVE THE LEMMINGS!
It was as if some divine being had whispered the cause in his ear. He shuddered, shook, trembled, shivered and jerked. He felt himself fill with The Purpose. Nausea overtook him for the briefest of instants, but he quickly regained control of himself.
He cleared his throat.
"STOP!" he yelled with a voice so full of Power that it made Grønt stop hopping up and down in that peculiar, insanely happy way.
The lemming that was just about to hurl itself down the cliff stopped abruptly, causing the followers to bump into him and turn around, back to their breeding place - where they would frolic and fornicate until the end of their days (that is, until there were again too many so that they had to migrate into a random direction again).
Wowbagger II The Even Less Finitely Prolonged looked around himself in a decidedly smug way. After that he disappeared back into the bowels of his spaceship. After a bit of hovering above the ground as if in some way hesitant, it took off to dazzling heights, disappearing.
Grønt didn't really know what to think of all this. On this particular morning, he had been confronted by a thing in the sky, a thing in a thing with water in it, a strange feeling in his body somewhere, mysterious inscriptions on a thing, a thing from the big thing above him, a creature that came from the thing, and little things, food, hurtling itself at his feet. He knew instinctively there had been something important between all of those experiences. Something that...
"Føød!" he growled, a strangely insane look settling on his face.
He dove into the warm pile of lemming corpses, tore furs and dug his teeth into the warm bellies filled with lemming entrails.
Grønt has been known to live happily everafter. Lucky for the Eggesbø Abrahamsen family - and less luckily for humanity as a whole - he found a female that liked his peculiar way of sweettalking ("Grønt? Grønt! GRØNT!!") so that his name was not to die out. Eventually, he was to have a descendant known as The Minute One. This particular specimen still looks rather insanely witty.
Grønt Eggesbø Abrahamsen died in 999.951 BC when he choked on lemming entrails.
Original written June 1991. Rehashed October 1994.